Danger Man – The Blue Veil

Posing as a drink-sodden desert rat, Drake visits a small town on the Arabian coast. There he meets the autocratic ruler, the Moukta (Ferdy Maine), a man allegedly implicated in the local slave trade ….

When I cued up this episode on Network’s DVD, my first thought was that I’d played the previous episode (The Nurse) by accident again, as both open with a shot of a helicopter hovering over what’s supposed to be a stretch of desert. But no, this is a different story even though the setting is pretty much the same.

The Blue Veil takes pains to establish that we’re in a society which would be totally alien to many of those in the West – it’s a land still firmly fixed in the Middle Ages, where justice is brutal and women are very much secondary citizens. The episode doesn’t really explore the problems of the locals though as most of Drake’s time is spent interacting with two Europeans – Spooner (Laurence Naismith) and Clare Nichols (Lisa Gastoni).

Spooner, an Englishman, has totally assimilated himself into the local culture and views the arrival of Drake with extreme disfavour. Naismith is excellent – managing to radiate a calm malevolence that’s very effective. Clare is today’s damsel in distress, desperate to return to civilisation and hopeful that Drake will help her.

Drake’s reluctant to break cover, so he has to be cool with her for a while. There’s a fascinating scene where she seems to see right through him – declaring that even though his outward appearance is disheveled, there’s goodness within. Either she has a sixth sense or Drake’s play-acting isn’t as good as he’d hoped.

Another small, but telling, moment comes after she learns of Drake’s apparent links with the slave trade. Her disgust seems to cause him a spasm of pain.

Rounding out the small guest cast is Joseph Cuby as Hassan, a young lad who befriends, betrays and then comes to serve Drake. Cuby offers an appealing turn, although the moment when Drake threatens Hassan with a knife does feel a little disquieting. We know that Drake would never use it, but even so.

There’s some Secret Agent gadgets used today. Drake has a miniature camera (which of course doesn’t look all that small today, but back in 1960 would have been more impressive). And for safety’s sake, he keeps the film in a hollow compartment in his shoe.

Drake uses the camera when he visits the Moukta (it’s hidden in his water bottle, so when he takes a swig of water he’s able to snap a few shots). I’m not sure why he does this and it slightly beggars belief that the Moukta didn’t notice anything. Let’s be generous and assume he was distracted by Clare.

The bulk of the episode is set in the town, but this turns out to be just preamble as Drake concludes his mission when he travels to the Moukta’s diamond mine and photographs the unhappy slaves kept prisoner. This is the main flaw in the episode – it seems that Drake already knew about the mine, so there seems no reason why he didn’t ask the helicopter to drop him there in the first place (which would have saved all that faffing about in town).

I like the way Drake pole-vaults over the electric fence which is keeping the slaves in captivity. Although it’s amazing that that guard who passed by a few seconds earlier seems totally oblivious.

Summing up The Blue Veil, you can’t fault the performances (Naismith especially) but the plotting somewhat lets it down. Apart from Drake’s runaround interlude in the town, it’s hard to believe that the United Nations (even with Drake’s photographic evidence) will be able to do anything. Drake might confidently assert that the Moukta and Spooner are now in deep trouble, but who will bring them to justice is never made clear.

Danger Man – The Journey Ends Halfway

Drake is in an unspecified Asian country, attempting to discover why refugees fleeing to freedom disappear somewhere along the escape route. The easiest way to find out the truth is to pose as a refugee, but that’s also the most dangerous ….

Given that we’re in Chinese territory, I have to confess to suffering a twinge of anxiety. Which Caucasian actors would be adopting the “me velly solly” roles today? But actually we get off fairly lightly with only Willoughby Goddard forced to look faintly ridiculous.

Elsewhere, there’s the usual crop of British based actors (Anthony Chinn, Ric Young and of course the sainted Burt Kwouk) who could always be guaranteed to pop up in a story of this kind and add a touch of authenticity. Kwouk, as the easily bribed hotel receptionist, gives an entertaining turn as does Anna May Wong as Miss Lee, today’s damsel in distress.

Miss Lee is one of many seeking to escape the oppressive regime of the unnamed government. She doesn’t feature greatly, but at least her presence gives Drake something to fight for.

One interesting thing to note about the episode is that Drake isn’t called upon to move the plot along via voice overs. This device has been used fairly regularly in the previous episodes and can sometimes be a little irritating, although it wasn’t uncommon during half hour series of this era, where movement from scene to scene had to be rapid (see also Dial 999, which regularly used the VO method).

There’s not a great deal of mystery in the story as the pre-credits sequence reveals what happens to the unfortunate refugees – half way across the river they’re murdered and robbed of their valuables.

This is where the finer aspects of the plot start to niggle away at me. McFadden (Willoughby Goddard) tells Drake that he believes there’s a traitor in the organisation, but it becomes plain that there’s problems at both ends of the escape route.

Dr. Bakalter (Paul Daneman) looks to be one of the white hats – arranging Drake’s escape but asking for no payment – but it’s not terribly shocking to learn later that he’s one of the baddies. This revelation causes me to ponder over more plot niggles. If the refugees don’t pay Bakalter, then how does he know whether they’re carrying anything of value? Given that we’re clearly in a Communist state, surely most of those wishing to flee wouldn’t have a great deal of money anyway (plus if you murder all of your clients it can’t be long before someone starts to notice).

Let’s be generous and assume that only certain wealthy refugees were given the machine gun treatment and the poorer ones reached the other side of the lake.

When not worrying about the plot, there’s always Patrick McGoohan’s performance to enjoy. Posing as an engineer, he adopts a very interesting accent although he doesn’t keep it going for long. I also enjoyed Drake’s interlude in the steam baths, where he luckily came up with the right answers (had he not, he might have been fried to a crisp!). His bamboozling of the local police also entertains, allowing McGoohan a chance to play broad (something which so far in the series he hasn’t been able to do very often)

Ian Stuart Black’s script is competent enough and it’s always a pleasure to see Paul Daneman, but I have to confess that The Journey Ends Halfway doesn’t really catch fire for me.

Danger Man – Time to Kill

Drake is assigned to eliminate Hans Vogeler (Derren Nesbitt), an assassin responsible for a number of recent kills. He’s reluctant to murder him in cold blood (electing instead to bring Vogeler to justice) but an unexpected chain of events looks like it will force his hand ….

Carl Jaffe (as the unfortunate Professor Barkoff) is today’s actor killed off before the opening credits roll. His death is dramatic, although it’s also slightly comic (see the expression on Barkoff’s face as he slowly sinks to the floor). It’s plain from first sight that Vogeler is an expert – cigarette in mouth, he lines up his target with an almost contemptuous ease.

Drake’s refusal to kill Vogeler chimed with McGoohan’s own feelings on the subject, but it’s also fair to say that the television climate of 1960 probably wouldn’t have countenanced the thought of Drake acting as an assassin. David Callan did so later during the 1960’s, but ITC shows (always with one eye on foreign sales) tended to be more conservative.

It’s learnt that Vogeler has gone bear hunting in Austria, so Drake is dispatched to track him down. Oswestry in Wales stands in for Austria and does so rather well. This is an episode with a hefty amount of film work, although it’s a pity that we have to keep returning to the studio for the dialogue scenes as the transition between film and studio is always going to be noticeable.

Austria is a police state where travel is strictly regulated (the eagle eyed will spot a young Edward Hardwicke playing one of the frontier guards). En route to his destination Drake is waylaid by Lisa Orin (Sarah Lawson), who appears to be a friendly sort of person.

This is the point of the story where you start to wonder about Lisa’s motivations. Drake’s been told that travel along a particular strip of road is forbidden after 4 pm and yet Lisa managed to follow him after this cut-off point. How had she done this and why does she speak the local language so fluently? Everything seems to suggest that she’s an enemy agent, assigned to keep tabs on Drake. And yet …

I like the scene where Drake, having pulled off the road, assembles his rifle. Parts of it are hidden inside several loaves of bread and the rest are scattered about in various different places (in the torch, inside the boot of the car). It’s another little James Bond touch (the episode in general has a feel of the short story For Your Eyes Only).

More homages seem to be in order after Lisa innocently discovers part of Drake’s rifle and a passing patrolman handcuffs them together. Drake knocks out the patrolman and drags the unwilling Lisa cross-country in order to complete his mission (take your pick from The Defiant Ones or The 39 Steps).

Given that Drake is now handicapped with Lisa, it looks like he’ll have to kill Vogeler. But if she wasn’t present, just what was his plan to get him out of the country? And how would the rifle had helped? These are questions to which there’s no particular answer.

After some toing and froing, Drake and Vogeler struggle over possession of another rifle. It goes off and Vogeler dies (killed accidentally by his own hand). You can either view this as poetic justice or a bit of a cop out (the baddy is dead but Drake hasn’t had to soil his own hands).

Even as we get to the end of the story, Lisa’s involvement seems a little hard to credit. Presumably the programme-makers also felt this, as the episode ends with a brief voice-over from Drake confirming that she really was nothing more than an innocent schoolteacher.

Sarah Lawson (who later made several memorable appearances in Callan as Flo Mayhew) provides a good counterpoint to Patrick McGoohan’s dour Drake. And although Derren Nesbitt’s screentime is limited, he’s still able to radiate sneering menace with ease. And I’ll award bonus points for Vogeler’s Austrian hat.

A decent script by Brian Clemens and Ian Stuart Black then, but it’s one where the 25 minute format feels a tad constrictive. A little more time spent with the handcuffed Drake and Lisa, developing their differing views on the rights and wrongs of killing, would have strengthened the episode considerably.